Story by Rick Watson:
I think I’ve wanted a Jeep for as long as I can remember. I wanted a CJ model, not a pick-up or the wagon like Chuck Carpenter had, although with a ski-pole shoved down over the shifter, it was transformed into a “cool” rig. I wanted one of those CJ’s, like all the old army movies had. I wanted one to drive on the beach and on sand dunes. I wanted one to go off road on old logging roads and go camping and such. I had a metal toy Jeep, GI Joe had a Jeep. Even Barbie had a Jeep, they’ve always been cool.
I think the first one I ever road in was home from the town skating rink with the high school kid who ran it. I don’t know his name, but I used to help out there after school, probably he got paid, and I did the work. I was probably 10 or 12. Hanging out with a high school kid was cool, and I liked to skate. He offered me a ride home in it one time and I jumped at the chance. Imagine if some of my friends happened to see me with this older kid riding around! He used to park it on the snowbank at the rink, not beside it, but actually up on the top of the bank…cool. He had a license plate or plates fastened to the floor to cover up the rust holes, and it was probably no warmer inside than out, except perhaps for the wind chill factor.
I used to walk by the “best” Jeep out to camp. It was on the way to my best friend Tiger Halls camp. John Hawes owned it. It was black, had a convertible top, a snowplow, and a winch. It was beautiful. He used it mostly just to plow his driveway and once in a while to go to a hunting camp he had up north. Exactly the way I imagined I’d use my Jeep. If only I had my license. Johns’ kids, Ann and Jay, were the first hippies I ever met. They were Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin to me. They burned incense and had day-glo posters in their basement where Jay played the electric guitar. I don’t remember if he was good or not, but he was loud! Ann wore rose colored sunglasses and peasant dresses and flowers in her hair most of the summer. The basement was the hangout for the cool kids, and I unfortunately missed the 60’s by being too young. I was a wanna-be. I bring this up for 2 reasons. The first is even the hippies had a Jeep. The 2nd is I almost lost this very Jeep to Jay.
I noticed the Jeep still sat where it always had, but didn’t move anymore. It was now about 1990. I still was at camp summers. Tiger had long since moved. Jay and Ann and families were in Alaska, … where else? (Vermont maybe.) I approached John about the old Jeep there…does it still run? Ever think about selling it? To my chagrin Jay wanted to take it to Alaska, and who could blame him? Alaska is perfect Jeep country.
Time passed and the Jeep didn’t move. The next summer I inquired again. Well, he might let it go for about $1500.00. That was about $1500.00 more than the Jeep looked like it was worth at that point. I guessed I’d have to pass, after all that time. Another season came and went, the convertible top had stopped keeping out the elements a long time ago. Rust, mildew, flat tires, old gas, plastic windows you could no longer see out of, you get the idea. Luckily Alaska was too far to either ship or drive the Jeep.
The call came. Are you still interested in the “old Jeep?” Well maybe, how much?
“The clutch is stuck from sitting and it doesn’t have brakes. How about $500.00?” Sold.
As is typical, I viewed the Jeep in my mind as it was in the 1960’s. I had the Jeep I actually bought hauled to the local garage for brakes and such. It was better than junk. I did a clutch, a battery and brakes and some wiring and took the top off and put in fresh gas and oh yeah, exhaust…fixed the lights, patched some rust and like magic, it was better than junk, but not much better.
I probably have about a thousand dollars in the Jeep now. I found a metal top in Uncle Henrys for $150.00, a convertible top is about $700.00 now. I have plowed with it for close to 10 years at this point. I plowed with it today. It plowed without hesitation, the “blizzard of 2005.” I pushed snow into piles higher than the Jeep itself. It is an awesome piece of utility vehicle. It is waaaay better than junk.
I’ve thought about restoring it before. They make every part of it, like the Model A or Model T, or the Mustang. I could even buy a brand new metal body for it. I could in fact restore it back to its original splendor. This one is even rare. It is the Hawaiian Tropic model from 1963. That means it started life pink. Like Barbies Jeep. Like all those hotels in the tropics used in the old Elvis movies. Now, how cool is that? It has chrome all over it. It has a chrome grab bar on the dash, chrome hinges for the windshield and hood. It has chrome hub caps and headlamp bezels. It could be a real show piece. Maybe even a set of wide whitewalls just like in those old movies. Maine, however was not ready for a pink Jeep, so it was painted black for John. It was the only interested party they’d had,apparently, so a black paint job was quickly applied. Quickly applied to even the seats as they were/are pink pleated leatherette under that black paint.
But then I thought, why? I’d have $10,000 dollars in it then. I wouldn’t be able to plow snow anymore. ( I really think I could push snow to the moon if I could get traction.) I would never take it into the woods where it would get scratched. I would have a Jeep I couldn’t use. I would seldom if ever get to hear that Jeep sound. It is kind of a winding sound. I don’t know if it is from the engine, transmission, or transfer case, but is a sound only Jeep has. Daimler should have gotten a patent on that sound. It is a unique sound like a Harley Davidson, or like a Model A or Model T, but instead they yuppied up the Jeep with independent suspension and good heaters and stereos and such.
No, I have a Jeep now 40+ years old that I get to use in the absolute worst weather we get. It always starts. Its short wheelbase makes it ideal for my “complicated” driveway. I have nowhere to push the snow, so there’s a lot of back and forth action. I keep the windows open so that the fumes don’t get too strong. I really don’t use the heater anymore. It seemed to just keep the inside warm enough to melt snow and keep it humid enough to cloud the windows. It never really kept it warm or the windows defrosted. The wipers work, but I don’t use them either. They never really kept the windshield clear of snow. I get out occasionally and wipe the snow off with gloved hand. It works just fine.
I have been asked before by some of the “extended-cab, 4X4, single lever control Fisher plow, leather heated seat, CD player” type if I’m still using that “old Jeep” to plow with? They apparently get a “kick” out of seeing me out plowing. I guess my answer is. “What else would I use?”
Kaiser Willys Jeep Blog Story – Rick Watson
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